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Candy Thermometers

candy thermometer

A friend once told me that the one word which terrifies people, enough to dissuade them from tackling a recipe, was the word “thermometer.” Candy making generally requires the use of a thermometer and I’m not sure why people get uneasy around thermometers because like kitchen scales, when things are in precise measurements – like degrees, pounds, or grams – it’s pretty straightforward. In fact, when you think about it, grilling meat or fish to the right point require far more savvy than simply reading the numbers on a thermometer.

Candy (also know as deep-fry thermometers) are readily available in houseware stores and almost every supermarket in the states. So there’s no reason to be wary of them as some baking, and candy making projects really do require the use of one. But sometimes recipes don’t turn out as intended and although candy making is famously persnickety (factors such as temperature of ingredients, weather, and variations in ingredients, like various chocolates, butters, and sugars can affect the results) many candy making issues can be resolved by verifying the accuracy of your thermometer.

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My Favorite Kitchen Tip, Ever

dirty dishes

This isn’t the most photogenic of posts, but one of the dirty secrets of writing cookbooks is the dishes. And this season, as the cavalcade of cooking tips comes tumbling forth in anticipation of all the holidays – and the cooking and baking that go along with them – this is the best tip I’ve ever been given.

Most of you probably know how many dishes to takes just to bake a simple cake: a stack bowls, a mixer and the whip, a gaggle of spatulas, and for my fellow Americans, a bunch of measuring cups and spoons. Now imagine if you made that same cake three times in a row, making a few other sets of dishes dirty. Then did it again.

In spite of that fact that I have a real dishwasher, I spend a few hours each and every day washing dishes. It’s funny because when friends call and ask me if I’m free for dinner, sometimes I have to decline because I have to work, and they don’t seem to understand that part of my “work” is washing and/or putting away dishes and pots and pans. It’s a cycle that’s part of my life and when I left the restaurant business, being able to hand off a bustub full of dirty dishes to someone else was something I missed a lot. (If you ask anyone who is the most important person in a restaurant kitchen, even more than the chef, it’s the dishwasher.)

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What is half-and-half?

half-and-half

Readers who are unfamiliar with the product, when they find it listed as an ingredient in a recipe, often ask: What is half-and-half?

Half-and-half is a product that is composed of one-half cream and one-half whole milk. In the United States, the fat percentages of those products are 30 to 36%, and 3.25%, respectively. Store-bought half-and-half can be anywhere in the range of 10.5% to 18% butterfat. (Fat-free and lowfat half-and-half items are available, but I don’t use them.) Half-and-half was likely conceived as something to be added to coffee, and was meant to be an item of convenience. It’s a common item in grocery stores in the United States, sold in pints and quarts alongside the milk, cream, and other fresh dairy products.

I use half-and-half in recipes where I want some richness, but not the same richness if full-fat cream was used. In some instances, I’ll offer an option to use either cream or half-and-half, to satisfy those looking for richness versus those looking to be a little more prudent. Like most recipes, always use what is indicated in the list of ingredients.

You can make half-and-half by mixing both whole milk and whipping cream or heavy cream, in equal proportions.



Related Posts and Links

Recipes to Use Up Leftover Egg Whites

Definitions of Fluid Milk & Milk Products (IDFA)

Ingredients for American Baking in Paris

Baking Ingredients and Substitutions

French Sugars

Non-Dairy Milks and Creams (The Cook’s Thesaurus)

Tips on How to Make Ice Cream

Chocolate FAQs

Cocoa Powder FAQs

How to tell if baking powder is still good

baking powder test

Baking powder does not last forever. Because it’s sensitive to moisture and humidity, it generally has a shelf life of between six months to one year. Baking powder should be kept in a cool, dry place, such as inside a cabinet, and should be discarded when it is no longer active. (Its cousin, baking soda*, has an indefinite shelf life, although some manufacturers recommend changing it every three years.)

baking powder

To test if baking powder is still active, spoon 1/2 teaspoon in a bowl and pour 1/4 cup (60 ml) of boiling water over it. Right away it should bubble up violently. If it does, it’s still good. If it doesn’t, discard it and open a new tin.

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Baking Ingredients and Substitutions

salt & vanilla

Because the question comes up from time to time, I thought I’d answer some questions about making substitutions in my recipes, and swapping out or deleting ingredients.

The short answer is: Ingredients are added to recipes for a specific purpose and there is a reason that they are there. When you substitute or swap out ingredients, results will vary and won’t be the same as mine.

Some may work, and others won’t. And I can’t comment on results unless I’ve tried it myself. The most common request is folks who want to reduce the sugar or fat in a recipe, but in most instances, people are not happy with the final results. So unless you have health issues such as allergies and intolerances, it’s best to stick with the recipe.

One recent change that’s occurred in home baking is the proliferation of “premium” products, such as “European-style” butter, stronger flour (with more protein and gluten), high percentage chocolate, and instant yeast. Using products such as these can alter results and it’s simply not possible to write a recipe that includes variations for each kind of product that might be available in the diverse geographical regions of the world. So it’s up to you to use your best judgement and alter a recipe as necessary, to compensate for the variation in products. (You may wish to consult the manufacturer directly to get further directions on using their product.)

Realizing that people have various dislikes and dietary needs, here are some guidelines you might find useful when using my recipes on the site or in my Books. If you’re looking for more comprehensive information about baking ingredient substitutions, I’ve provided links at the end where you can find answers. Do remember that these are general guidelines and are not applicable to each and every recipe that exists. Home bakers are encouraged to experiment—especially those on restricted or special diets, because they’re often best educated on how to modify recipes to meet their particular dietary needs.

Spices

Spices are interchangeable in recipes. When I come up with spice amounts, they are to my personal taste and that which I think others will like. Reducing 2 teaspoons of cinnamon to 1 teaspoon won’t alter the way a cake or cookie turns out, but it won’t have the same oomph as the ones I did. However not everyone likes, say, cloves or other spices. So if you see a spice in a recipe you don’t like, you can omit it and perhaps dial up one of the other spices or flavors to compensate.

Gluten and Flours

In recipes that call for flour, I mean all-purpose flour. If I mean cake or bread flour, that will be noted. I’m not an expert on gluten-free baking and there are others who are so can’t advise about substitutions with specialty flours. King Arthur carries a gluten-free baking flour that they advise is a good swap for wheat flour. I haven’t used it so can’t confirm, but people who bake gluten-free likely have their own techniques for substituting wheat flour if you don’t wish to use a gluten-free flour mix, such as:

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How to Find Foods and Other Items Mentioned On the Site

tinned fruits and more

Because I live outside the United States, sometimes people inquire about where they can obtain the same ingredients or equipment wherever they live—worldwide.

Although I strive to make the recipes and stories as globalized as possible, infrequently I will use an ingredient or equipment that might not necessarily be as easily available to others as it is to me.

So I’m sharing the same search techniques that I employ when discerning where certain ingredients or products are available to readers which are relevant to many countries. Globalization has made a wide variety of things available around the world, but it’s impossible to ascertain exactly what is available where specific readers live. Because readers obviously have an internet connection, I often point people toward online sources, and because it’s impossible for me to know what is available in other countries or places. But you should also check with local merchants as well, and support the businesses in your community.


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Amazon

Amazon sells an unbelievable array of products, including French cheeses, salts, and other products. Many are sold through third-party merchants, who sell their goods under the Amazon umbrella. And some are sold directly from Amazon. They have a few departments, such as ‘Grocery & Gourmet Food’, ‘Home Appliances’ and ‘Kitchen & Dining’, so you can refine your search.

(Note: I’m an Amazon affiliate, but I don’t sell items on Amazon.)

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EBay

A giant flea market, you’d be surprised at what turns up on EBay. I was paying €45 for four cartridges for my printer until I discovered someone in France selling them for €9.99, for twenty four. Ebay features people selling new and used appliances, and you can find good deals through Ebay. It’s also a good place to find obscure items, like Thermomix machines and Moulex shredders. But you’ll often have to do a bit of digging and refining of your search.

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How to Make Clarified Butter

French butter melting butter

One uses clarified butter (sometimes called ‘drawn’ butter) in places where you’ll be frying something either for an extended period or over high heat. And for those times when you want the flavor of butter, rather than oil, you’ll want to use clarified butter, which, unlike oil, can stand being cooked longer and to a higher temperature. Clarifying butter removes the milk solids and moisture, which makes this possible.

melting butter beurre doux

Many Indian cooks use ghee, which is similar, except it’s usually been cooked longer to decrease the moisture and deepen the flavor, and sometimes is seasoned with tumeric, fenugreek, or another spice.

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Cocoa Powder FAQ: Dutch-process & natural cocoa powder

Here are some of the frequently asked questions people have about cocoa powder, and how it’s used in recipes:

truffles

What’s the difference between Dutch-process and natural cocoa powder?

Dutch-process cocoa powder is made from cocoa (cacao) beans that have been washed with a potassium solution, to neutralize their acidity. Natural cocoa powder is made from cocoa beans that are simply roasted, then pulverized into a fine powder.

What does Dutching do?

Aside from neutralizing the acidity, Dutching cocoa powder makes it darker (see photo below, right) and can help mellow the flavor of the beans. Some artisan companies in the United States don’t Dutch-process their cocoa as they claim their cocoa beans don’t need to be acid-neutralized. Most supermarket brands of cocoa powder in America, such as Hershey’s and Nestlé, are natural cocoa powders.

two cocoa powders

Can I use Dutch-process and natural cocoa powder interchangeably in recipes?

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